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Rate of elderly Americans in workforce climbs


By CNN Editor Yvonne Lee

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite a decreasing number of elderly people in the United States in the 1990s, a census report released Friday shows 14 percent of people aged 65 years and older were in the civilian work force last year.

"For the entire century, the proportion of older people working was decreasing, particularly with men," said Eileen M. Crimmins, professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California. "In about the mid-80s, it wasn't decreasing anymore. It was pretty flat, with maybe a slight increase from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. These figures show the end of a long-term trend, and perhaps the beginning of a small reversal."

The Census Bureau projects that the elderly growth rate from 1990-2010 will be slower than during any 20-year period since 1910. This trend will reverse itself as baby boomers reach age 65. By 2030, the bureau estimates that about one in five U.S. citizens will be elderly, which may significantly increase the number of elderly in the workforce.

"We are going to reach a point in the United States where there is going to be one person of retirement age for every two persons in the workforce," said Everett Lee, Assistant Director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Georgia.

Gerontologists said several factors contribute to the increase of elderly workers: a booming economy in the last decade, an increase of white collar jobs that are less demanding on the body, better pay, and fewer people over 65 who are disabled.

Psychology also plays a factor in keeping the elderly working, Lee said. A University of Georgia study found that older people -- particularly those who are well-educated -- want to keep working. "More and more, the elderly are likely to feel they are left out unless they feel like they're doing something, like working or volunteering," Lee said.

Of the over-65 workforce, 58 percent of those are men and 42 percent are women. The majority of the jobs they hold are professional, managerial, technical or administrative support jobs.

The census report also shows that older women had a poverty rate that was almost twice as high as that of men. Twelve percent of elderly women lived in poverty, while only 7 percent of their male counterparts do. The overall poverty rate among the elderly has not changed since 1998. It has wavered between 9.1 percent and 10.9 percent for the last decade.

Elderly women have consistently been poorer than older men, partly as a result of losing a joint income and getting reduced Social Security benefits when their husbands die. Women, Crimmins said, "survive longer and poorer."

One outcome of longer lifespans for women is that they are more likely than men to be widowed and unmarried. In the 65 to 84-year-old age group, 74 percent of men and 45 percent of women were married and living with their spouses. Contributing to the disparity is that men tend to marry women who are on average three years younger, Crimmins said.

• Census Bureau Home Page

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